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Solo trip to Belgium, July 2019

See the Netherlands section for the beginning of my trip. I already bought my plane tickets from Detroit to Amsterdam, and Brussels back to Detroit. I didn't make any other reservations.
Thursday late afternoon or early evening: train from Haarlem to to Brussels. Sleep in Brussels.

If there is a guided walking tour on Friday or Sunday, attend the tour and fit other stuff in around the tour.
Fri: Royal museum of fine art; if time: musical instruments museum, BELvue museum, walk past various monuments. Sleep in Brussels.
Sat: Day or part day trip to Ghent: art museum (10-6pm), walk past various monuments and if time go inside the castle and St. Bavo’s; if extra time, Ghent design museum. Sleep in Brussels.
Sunday: Go to Tourist information office in town hall and if possible, sign up for an English tour of the place; before and or after the tour, if not seen yet: musical instruments museum and/or BELvue museum, walk past various monuments. Sleep in Brussels.
Mon: Go to European parliament building at 9am, see if there is an English tour I can sign up for; 1958 world’s fair grounds, possibly city museum; or after the European parliament, the Military museum; walk past various monuments, and so on. Sleep in Brussels.
Tuesday: Fly home.

Any suggestions are welcome.

Posted by
668 posts

The best destination in Belgium is the gorgeous city of Bruges. At least 1 1/2 days and be sure to see the town center both day and night.
I love Ghent but never spend more than 1/2 day there.
Antwerp is worth at least a day.
Brussels beyond the Grand Place has little appeal to me

Posted by
1504 posts

I’d spend that entire day in Ghent. There is plenty to see there to fill a day especially if you don’t spend as much time in the museum as you have planned. If you’re already there, maximize what you see. To me, outside of the Grand Place, Brussels has little to offer, but what you have planned on Monday should fill that day.

Posted by
306 posts

The reason I put times in parenthesis next to sites is to remind myself when the place is open, not that I expect to spend 8 hours in one museum. Before I print a copy of my itinerary to take with me on my trip, I expect to edit it at least a little, and enhanse it with more opening and closing times. I probably wouldn’t spend more than 5 hours in one museum, and only this much time time if it is a big and engrossing place.

Edit: if I am only giving myself 4 full days in Belgium, I won’t have time to visit more than two cities. And consider that a lot of the museums are closed on Monday. Descriptions in Rick Steves’s Belgium guidebook, about the two listed art museums in Bruges, suggest that a lot or most of the stuff on display was made by the so called Flemish Primitives and involves christian themes, pictures of Mary, people carrying a dead Jesus on a cross, and so on. I was raised Jewish and christian themed artwork wouldn’t be spiritually meaningful or familiar to me, and I need reasons to limit the number of museums I try seeing because there isn’t time to see everything. I don’t mind if I end up seeing one or more churches or a little sample of christianity.

Posted by
9456 posts

IMO Bruges and Ghent have more to offer than Brussels.

Posted by
11561 posts

I would say Kent is correct, except that I have never spent time in Brussels, only in Bruges and Ghent. Consider staying in Ghent and day tripping. Ghent is cheaper and has a very nice atmosphere, especially after dark when the medieval buildings and bridges are illuminated. Bruges is touristy, but well worth a day.

Posted by
128 posts

Agree with the posts.
Spent one day each in Bruges and Ghent; the more you like strolling and taking in sights and people watch, the more time you will want to spend.
We stayed in Ghent at the Carlton Hotel; within walking distance of the train station and the proprietors are excellent resources for up to date happenings in both Ghent and Bruges.
Make time to see St. Bavo's; we thought we would spend only an hour and were there much longer.
have fun!

Posted by
306 posts

I changed my mind:

Thursday: train from Den Haag to Anterpen. Arrive approximately afternoon or evening. Tenative plan to take the “intercity” train route that requires changing trains in Breda, and not the Thalys train.
Friday: Museum plantin-Moretus, Rubens house, if time Rockox house museum; walk past various monuments.
Saturday: if not seen yet, Rockox house; if time, red star line museum, museum de stroom, and/or walk past various monuments I didn’t see yet. Train to Brussels. Arrive at loging in evening and certainly before 10pm.
Sunday: Royal museum of fine arts; if time, musical instruments museum; walk past various monuments.
Monday: possibly European parliment: may show up at 9am and see if there is an English tour; 1958 world’s fair grounds and/or walk past various monuments I didn’t see yet.

Any suggestions are welcome. Yes, I am going against recommendations and I realize that some opinions are that Brugges is the best city in Belgium. The museum with the early printing presses in Antwerp would probably be of more interest to me as a librarian and person who likes books. As of now my trip is: arrive in Amsterdam on Wednesday; wed, thu, fri, sat, sun, mon, tue, wed nights in the Netherlands; 5 additional nights and 4 whole days in Belgium; if I had more time, I probaly would see more towns in Belgium.

[Bonus question: does Brussels feel much more dangerous than other towns you have visited? If you had a son over 30 years old who was going to be walking alone in Brussels, would you worry about him getting asaulted, mugged, or shot, more than in other cities? So far, I visited London, and cities in Greece and Italy, without much problem. I had an incident where 3 german young men tried to help me use the ticket machine in the subway in Athens, but all I needed was change for a €20 bill, because the machines owul donly accept €10 bills or smaller denominations, and they were crowding too close to me and I thought they were robbing me or worse, but I counted my money and checked my bags as soon as I got on the train and determined that I had retained all my money and everything else. One of them gave me change for the €20. I am not trained in martial arts or self defense. People from Detroit are more likely than people from other places to worry that cities are dangerous. My family has no clue that I am taking this trip. I live alone.]

Posted by
306 posts

Revised hypothesized itinerary. Cross posted in the Netherlands section.
Wednesday: Plane arrives in Amsterdam 12:30pm local time. If time: Maritime museum, walk past various monuments. Sleep in Amsterdam.
Thurs: Anne Frank house, Portuguese synagogue and Jewish museum; if time, Dutch resistance museum. Sleep in Amsterdam.
Fri: Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh museum, possibly Stedelijk museum. Sleep in Amsterdam.
Sat: day trip to Haarlem: Buy combo ticket for Frans Hal and Teylers museum at information office in the town hall at 9:30am or when they open; Frans Hal museum first; walk past various monuments and possibly, if time, briefly go inside: Saint Bavo’s kerk. Sleep in Amsterdam.
Sunday: day or part day trip to Zaanse Schans. Sleep in Amsterdam.
Monday: Rembrandt house or Willet Holthuysen museum; if time, if not seen yet, one or more of: maritime museum; Amsterdam museum, Dutch Resistance museum. Train to Den Haag. Sleep in Den Haag.
Tue: Day or part day trip to Delft: Vermeer center, Prinsenhof museum; if time, possibly briefly go into one of the churches; walk past various monuments, and so on. Sleep in The Hague.
Wed: Den Haage: Mauritshuis museum, Escher in the palace; if time: binnenhof; walk past various monuments. Sleep in The Hague.
Thurs: Gemeentenmuseum (11-5pm); panorama Mesdag; if extra time, possibly: Prison Gate museum (open 10-5pm), adjacent prins Willem V gallery. Train to Antwerp. Probably the “Intercity” train route that requires changing trains in Breda. Sleep in Antwerp.

Belgium:
Fri: Museum Plantin-Moretus, Rubens house and Mayer van der Bergh museum combo ticket (the Mayer van der Bergh is listed in the rough guide but Rick skipped it); walk past various monuments. Sleep in Antwerp.
Saturday: Snijers Rockox house, Red Star line museum, if extra time: museum aan de Stroom. Train to Brussels. Sleep in Brussels.
Sunday: Royal museum of fine art; if time, musical instruments museum; walk past various monuments.
Monday: Possibly: European parliament (Show up at 9am, see if there is a tour available), 1958 world’s fair grounds, walk past various monuments, and so on.
Tuesday: Flight back to Detroit.

Does my first Monday look like a good day or should I squish the part of my itinerary beyond Amsterdam a day sooner and give myself another day in Belgium?

Posted by
668 posts

I'm glad you're going to Antwerp.
Now if only you could add marvelous Bruges and its world-class beauty and eliminate/minimize Brussels.
Christian-themed art? I'm not religious at all but that's what they often painted and very well.

Posted by
306 posts

I want to see the art museum in Brussels. A lot of the museums and sites in Belgium are closed on Mondays. My current opinion is, I don't go to a town only to walk past various monuments without also seeing at least one museum or site that is open to visitors. I think I will be just as happy if I find some site(s) to see in or near Brussels on my last day of my trip, skipping Bruges, Gent, and/or other towns in Belgium or saving them for another trip. Maybe I will be just as happy if I skip the European parliament and go to the museum or visitor center at sight of the Battle of Waterloo. It looks like it is open on Mondays.

Posted by
668 posts

You also want to see the Groeninge museum and
the St John's Hospital and Hans Memling Museum
in Bruges

Posted by
3319 posts

Van den Bergh museum is a good choice, with several important works too fragile to travel. The mansion interior is in better condition than the Rubenshuis, which does not own an art collection. There will likely be more art in the smaller Rocoxhuis than the Rubenshuis. Consider the Maagdenhuis (Foundling Home museum) near van den Burgh for a quick visit. While Antwerp's best art museum KMSKA is closed for renovation, some of their works may be at other museums, especially the MAS - which also has a roof view deck. Tram is the best way to get to the MAS. Are you going to at least one Beguinage?

I agree that you should drop modern places with purely symbolic value (like the European Parliament) from your crowded schedule. Brussels is only worth one day (for your program) and could be a daytrip from Antwerp. Do you care about the Magritte museum or whatever shows are up at the excellent Bozar near the big Brussels museums? Most of these cities have a Sunday-only Town Hall tour, so Brussels is not your only choice. The TI might sell those tickets the day before(?). You don't care if some of the tour is in Dutch. It may well be mostly English.

Although Gent is less attractive on Monday, the Mystic Lamb is available seven days. Attractions are so thick in Antwerp that you might want to be ready to drop something from your list.

Posted by
306 posts

Thnaks for your imput.

It looks like there is a “Begijnhof” in Antwerp, close to other sites. In theory it looks like Antwerp has enough sites to occupy me for 3 days. And I feel like it would a shame to skip the Royal museum of art in Belgium. If I make time for only one major museum or site in Brussels, this is what I want to see. Or at least it is what I think I want to see, if I am not too tired of seeing paintings before I have a chance to arrive in Brussels.

Edit: Why would there be an advantage to staying in Antwerp and going to Belgium as a day trip? And my flight back to Detroit (changing planes in Atlanta) leaves from Brussels on the last Tuesday of my trip. I think I need to sleep in Brussels at least the night before my flight leaves. Rick and various opinions recommend arriving at the airport 3 hours in advance ... you never know how long the security line and screenings could take.

Posted by
668 posts

The one sight you want to see in Brussels is the Grande Place with Mannekin Pis - 1/2 hour will do it, about 800M (1/2 mile) from the Royal museum of Fine Arts.

Posted by
3319 posts

Yes, the combined Ancient and Modern Art Museums in Brussels are spectacular.

Your observation about flying home from BRU is sensible. My own point was that TWO nights in Brussels are not necessary for your itinerary. I was just reminding you that it is not necessary to change hotels for every Belgian city. I have never slept in Brussels but have been there for a day from Antwerp three times. There is an hourly bus to BRU from Antwerp, beside the Centraal train station, if that happens to suit your flight schedule. BRU has good rail service but often requires a change of trains. Note that all train tickets to downtown Brussels are valid to any of the three stations. (Not BRU, that's a separate ticket.)

Posted by
10190 posts

I don't get any "help" on using a ticket machine unless I ask...hardly ever. If I were going to Brussels, I would be going solo just as I am in London... haven't been in Brussels since 1984.

Posted by
306 posts

@ andrew.reis (and otners): Does your your suggestion to go to Bruges (and maybe Ghent too), have anything to do with Brussels being a safety concern? Should I only go to Brussels as a day trip from somewhere else? As of now I am think of 3 nights in Brussels, but I didn't make any reservations yet. Should I find a way to avoid sleeping in Brussels? It looks I could take a train from Antwerpen Centraal station in Antwerp to Brussels Airport-Zaventem is only 32 minutes.

Posted by
668 posts

You go to Bruges because it is one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

Posted by
3319 posts

Mike, your question about safety in Brussels, combined with your earlier fear of street crime makes me wonder if you should be traveling at all. Surely you have learned by now that crime rates are much lower in Europe than they are in the U.S. There is a mass shooting episode in the US every week, and that rarely happens in Europe. Many Americans die of gunshots every day, while the crime death rate for tourists in Western Europe is essentially zero.

Weren't Belgian tourists run down on the bike path last year in New York City, which I visit every week?

I went to Chicago last month for three nights. That city is far more dangerous than anyplace you could go in Western Europe. Yet I never saw a gun used in Chicago, and I escaped with my life. Perhaps you should think more about how your assumptions during the ticket incident were completely wrong? Do you have a belt-mounted pouch behind your waistband? You need to find aome way to reduce your anxiety, while retaining appropriate sensitivity to street conditions.

Posted by
10190 posts

If you don't want to stay in Brussels, then stay in a bit south...Waterloo and take in the history of the place by spending the whole day looking at all that Napoleon history attached to Waterloo.

Posted by
8426 posts

Descriptions in Rick Steves’s Belgium guidebook, about the two listed
art museums in Bruges, suggest that a lot or most of the stuff on
display was made by the so called Flemish Primitives and involves
christian themes, pictures of Mary, people carrying a dead Jesus on a
cross, and so on. I was raised Jewish and christian themed artwork
wouldn’t be spiritually meaningful or familiar to me,

Just a wee note here, Mike. As with your previous trip to Italy, the art, for me, is often less about theme as it is about technique. This is true of the more notable Flemish Primitive painters and the advancements they made with oils and detail. And, same as in Italy, art of certain periods is heavy on religious themes because a vast amount of it was either financed by the church, or by wealthy individuals FOR the churches/chapels. I am not 'religious' at all but appreciate a multitude of styles, mediums and palettes very much, whatever the theme. Anyway, I do hope you can take in at least a few of the better Primitives.

Posted by
306 posts

You are right if you assume that I can appreciate art for the skill and detail even if I don't know much about or think I won't care much about the themes. ... I am not giving myself enough time to see Belgium comprehensively. I had thought about seeing sights/museums in Ghent, then I thought I wanted to see Antwerp. Now I am doubting myself and wondering if I should go back to my earlier plan to see Ghent but maybe spend at least a night there. Here is my supposed itinerary as of now, but I haven't made any reservations yet.

Wednesday: Plane arrives in Amsterdam 12:30pm local time. If time: Maritime museum, walk past various monuments. Sleep in Amsterdam.
Thurs: Anne Frank house, Portuguese synagogue and Jewish museum; if time, Dutch resistance museum. Sleep in Amsterdam.
Fri: Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh museum, possibly Stedelijk museum. Sleep in Amsterdam.
Sat: day trip to Haarlem: Buy combo ticket for Frans Hal and Teylers museum at information office in the town hall at 9:30am or when they open; Frans Hal museum first; walk past various monuments and possibly, if time, briefly go inside: Saint Bavo’s kerk. Sleep in Amsterdam.
Sunday: day or part day trip to Zaanse Schans. Sleep in Amsterdam.
Monday: Rembrandt house or Willet Holthuysen museum; if time, if not seen yet, one or more of: maritime museum; Amsterdam museum, Dutch Resistance museum. Train to Den Haag. Sleep in Den Haag.
Tue: Day or part day trip to Delft: Vermeer center, Prinsenhof museum; if time, possibly briefly go into one of the churches; walk past various monuments, and so on. Sleep in The Hague.
Wed: Den Haage: Mauritshuis museum, Escher in the palace; if time: binnenhof; walk past various monuments. Sleep in The Hague.
Thurs: Gemeentenmuseum (11-5pm); panorama Mesdag; if extra time, possibly: Prison Gate museum (open 10-5pm), adjacent prins Willem V gallery. Train to Antwerp. Probably the “Intercity” train rout that requires changing trains in Breda. Sleep in Antwerp.

Belgium:
Fri: Antwerp: Museum Plantin-Moretus, Rubens house and Mayer van der Bergh museum combo ticket (the Mayer van der Bergh is listed in the rough guide but Rick skipped it); walk past various monuments. Sleep in Antwerp.
Saturday: Snijers Rockox house, Red Star line museum, if extra time: museum aan de Stroom. Train to Brussels. Sleep in Brussels.
Sunday: Royal museum of fine art; if time, musical instruments museum; walk past various monuments.
Monday: Possibly: European parliament (show up at 9am, see if there is a tour available), 1958 world’s fair grounds, walk past various monuments, and so on.
Tuesday: Flight back to Detroit.

Posted by
306 posts

I am skipping Bruges on this trip. I like art museums but I don't necessarily have to see every one that is near where I will be. I want to be in Brussels at least long enough to see the one big or semi big art museum, if time the musical instruments museum, and if time walk past fountains and various monuments. And my flight back to the USA leaves from Brussels airport at 11am.

Posted by
306 posts

I think I know what I am doing on my last Monday of my trip. of the 4 major sites listed in Rick Steves Belgium, only the Fine arts museum is closed on Mondays. I will take a day trip by train to Ghent and try seeing Saint Bavo’s cathedral/ Ghent alter piece, Ghent design museum; walk past various monuments, if time, go inside Castle of the counts.

Posted by
240 posts

You must go on a few Beer Tours...try Leuven, Dinant. The beer is outstanding.

Posted by
306 posts

The beer tours wouldn’t be of interest to me and I don’t consume alcohol.